Something magical is being conjured up at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on 45th St in New York City, and it has nothing to do with a scar on someone’s forehead. Daniel Radcliffe, who we all know from the Harry Potter franchise, takes a star turn on Broadway, but this time he’s wowing audiences with his fancy footwork, mellifluous singing and snarky winks to the audience. How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, the Broadway musical, was written in 1961, in the what’s-now-known-as “Madmen Era”. That is to say, the show is unapologetically sexist. Yet somehow, it exists as a relic of an erstwhile attitude, and those of us who were personally affected by it don’t seem to be bitter because Madmen has already provided that outlet.
Look at that smile! Aw.
Regardless of Daniel Radcliffe’s effulgent performance, the sexism inherent in the story is kind of the elephant in the room. Everybody sees it, but it’s not taken seriously, so much as to say “well, this is how the show was written, so we’re just going to keep it in and hope audiences focus on the dancing”. And the dancing itself is superb! Director/Choreographer Rob Ashford has taken his Promises, Promises aesthetic and gussied it up, put on a new coat of paint and plastered it on here, complete with his high kicking suits and high-heeled secretaries. The effect is nothing short of joyous, and with the addition of undeniably likable Radcliffe, the show ultimately succeeds (no pun intended?).
The show is basically the story of how a window washer (Radcliffe) moves up the corporate ladder by manipulating people. A book (called “How To Succeed”) is his guide – narrated by dryest of dry Anderson Cooper (who I think was channeling his “The Mole” hosting days with his unwaveringly serious voiceover). We follow Radcliffe as he figures out exactly the right things to say and do to get ahead, and while the story is predictable, it is still exciting and clever, and you feel like you are succeeding along with him. We don’t really have a reason to root for him, other than he’s the protagonist and underdog. However, watching Radcliffe is like watching your nephew – you’ve seen him in lots of shows since he was 8 years old, so you simply have to be on his side. We all root for Radcliffe’s ultimate underdog Harry Potter, so why wouldn’t we root for his ruthless, manipulative, sexist corporate businessman? Brilliant casting move.
Broadway brings American and British stars together!
I haven’t yet mentioned the other star in this show – John Larroquette (Night Court), oafishly plays the President of the company. Larroquette is easily a foot and a half taller than Radcliffe, which, in their soft-shoe duet, proves to provide a rather comical tableau. Also in the cast is the vampy Tammy Blanchard, who played Nicole Kidman’s sister in Academy Award nominated “Rabbit Hole”. Blanchard channels Jennifer Coolidge in her own sultrily ditzy way, and ends up being the second most watchable character in the show, after Radcliffe. Other standout cast members include Christopher Hanke’s villainous mailboy, and of course the entire dance ensemble (I wish we staffers at Logo could erupt into corporate song and dance so spontaneously).
At the end of the show, you can’t help but appreciate How to Succeed for what it is – an old fashioned 60’s romp around the stage. How to Succeed is currently playing at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on 246 West 45th St in New York City.